There are many ways to stop an asteroid.
You could attach rockets to one, steering it away from Earth. You could shoot one, knocking it off course. You could even capture one inside an inflatable bag, redirecting it elsewhere. Seriously.
And then there’s the old Armageddon standby: Nuke the asteroid to all hell.
In that regard, Russian scientists are now wanting to re-purpose some of their old ICBMs to prevent asteroid catastrophes, or even smaller-scale (but still terrifying) events like 2013’s Chelyabinsk meteor.
According to Popular Mechanics, “Smallish asteroids—ones from roughly 50 to 150 feet in diameter—are very difficult to detect more than a few hours in advance, but can still do some serious damage if they wind up on a collision course with Earth.”
So why not shoot them?
Meanwhile, scientists in Siberia have been crunching the numbers with their supercomputer, trying to discover the best way to explode a 200m-large asteroid with a nuclear bomb, while also avoiding nuclear Armageddon down here on Earth.
It’s a real concern. They say it’d be best to hit the asteroid while it’s moving away from Earth, as they tend to approach several times, giving us multiple opportunities.
“They calculated that a nuclear device with energy equivalent to a million tons of TNT would obliterate the asteroid into particles of gas and liquid, with fragments no bigger than ten meters.”
Asteroid death prevention is a topic that’s been heating up lately, partly because of the ominous specter of 99942 Apophis. Originally, scientists gave Apophis a 2.7% chance of colliding with Earth on April 13, 2029. This probability was later discarded.
However, a threat, though very, very small, remains: If it passes through something called a “gravitational keyhole” in 2029, this would alter the orbit of Apophis, potentially causing it to strike Earth seven years later on April 13, 2036.
NASA gives this a “one in a million” chance of happening, stating that their interest in Apophis “will essentially be for its scientific interest for the foreseeable future.”
That said, if all goes to plan, Apophis itself may be the Russians’ first test target.